User research: Its impact and how to conduct a successful one

December 5, 2018

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As a UX designer, a large part of my job is to understand the user’s problems, expectations, pain points, and behaviours so we can design solutions that are suitable to their needs. To do this, we conduct user research and talk to our users. It gives us the opportunity to learn more about their problems, validate our assumptions, and develop empathy for the users. This leads to more informed decision making from the user’s perspective and provides us the best chance to succeed.

While more and more companies are starting to incorporate user research as part of their process, there are still many companies that don’t understand the impact it can have on their businesses. Based on my experience, here are three principles that will help you ensure that the research you are doing makes a difference

1. Making your customer’s needs your business goals

Let’s imagine that you have an idea that you think will improve your product, attract new customers, and generate more sales. Your team loves the idea and decide to spend resources and time to build it. However, things don’t go as planned after it’s released. The demand is low, and sales haven’t increased. Now you’re left wondering what went wrong.

Here’s probably what happened: when customers buy your product, they have a specific goal in mind that they think your product can satisfy, but if your product doesn’t suit their needs, your customers will look for alternatives without looking back. That’s why it’s so important to listen and learn about their problems so you can build the right solution. Remember: always validate your idea with your users to see what they think before you implement it.

2. Validating designs and feedback


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As the old saying goes, “you are not the user”, so you should talk to the ones who are. Gather feedback to see whether or not it fulfills their needs and how it can be improved. If users love it, it provides evidence that your idea is worth building and it increases your chances of success. If they don’t, then you’ll have to go back to the drawing board and analyze the situation further. By doing user research upfront, you found out that your solution doesn’t work early on in the process, saving you valuable resources, effort, and time from going down the wrong path.

I’ll give you another example: one of our clients was looking for some design recommendations based on some negative feedback they received on their new interface. They wanted to verify these issues and address them. When we conducted usability testing, the issues from the original feedback rarely appeared. Instead, we observed other areas that needed improvement and made recommendations based on these findings. In this case, verifying the customer feedback through usability testing prevented us from trying to solve a minor problem and potentially ruin an experience that already works for a majority of users.

3. Maintaining a competitive advantage


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Creating a successful product is hard, but maintaining its success and growth is even harder. Sometimes, when companies create a product and see it succeed, they think they already know what the users want based on their past success.  They design in a vacuum and ignore the problems their customers are facing when using their product. Their customers might find issues and problems with the product and get frustrated and unhappy. They might want something that can do the job faster, provide a better experience, or offer better value for the money. While this is happening, other companies enter the market, hoping to attract customers with a better product. Once your customers know about this new product that satisfies their needs better, they won’t hesitate to switch.

User research can help prevent this from happening and keep you ahead of the game. After you launch your product, listen to your users to see what they have to say; observe and understand how your customers are using your product to uncover flaws and make improvements. Customers are happier when they see you make improvements that continuously meet their needs, making it more likely for them to buy your product again.

Also, don’t forget to take a look at what your competitors are doing by conducting a competitive analysis; focus on a few competitors and determine the strengths and weaknesses across multiple factors. The purpose is to see how your product stacks up against your competition, giving you a concrete image of where your product excels and where it’s lagging behind. It can also highlight potential areas of opportunity and inspire you to think of creative solutions and features that no one else has thought of.

A competitive analysis doesn’t require a lot of effort, resources or time to do; it can be done within a week’s time, depending on the number of competitors and factors being examined. Focus on the factors that matter to you the most first, or time box the activity so you don’t spend too much time.

User research won’t solve all your problems, but when done right, it will provide meaningful information that can guide you in the right direction. Hopefully, this inspires you to think of user research as a critical part of your process.

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